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When It Rains ...

A challenging year for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

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A year ago, Diane Hampton, executive vice president of Memphis in May, was explaining that 2009 would be the year that the organization would put extra effort in emphasizing the "world" in the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest by recruiting teams from around the globe.

As it happens, 2009 is "the economy, the swine flu, and days and days of rain," Hampton says.

It's Monday before this weekend's contest, and Hampton is on-site at rain-soaked Tom Lee Park, where 500 tons of sand are being spread to contain the mess.

Last year's recruiting goal, Hampton says, was hampered by the bad economy. Still, the contest reached full capacity with 238 teams from 19 states and at least two countries competing for $97,000 in prizes.

New this year (besides the redesigned championship trophy) is Memphis in May's commitment to go "full-blown green," Hampton says. Containers used in judging are either biodegradable or made from recycled material, bio-diesel fuel is being used in generators, and teams are strongly encouraged to recycle.

In response to the swine flu, two dozen hand-washers were added to the park in time for the music festival. Memphis in May officials have been working with the health department to ensure that the event is "safe, comfortable, and enjoyable," Hampton says.

The flu and economy aside, it's the rain that's been the real killer. "This is my 11th festival, and it's the toughest I've seen," Hampton says. "The volunteers deserve an incredible amount of credit. They've worked literally all night long putting down sand."

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, Thursday-Saturday, May 14th-16th. Tickets are $8.

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